Bluebirds outside my window

I was making monthly visits to see my mother last year when I noticed that one of her bluebird boxes was occupied. She was in and out of hospitals for a while, and I was in and out of state. But I managed few peeks at them now and then.

Dad or a sibling seemed always to be on the lookout. Whether they were looking for danger, or searching for bugs, I wasn’t sure. But they usually saw me and my camera, and weren’t afraid to let me know it.

daddy lookout
Dad watching from the power line.
bluebird helper
‘I see you,’ big brother seemed to say to me.
big bros gotcha
Nearly every time I walked outside, I saw bright eyes looking at me.

Aside from all the people watching the bluebird family engaged in, they were just as busy catching bugs. Crawling bugs, flying bugs – I’m not sure how they found them all.

have a worm
This older sibling checked for predators before offering the babies a tasty worm.
pesky bug
But some bugs proved easier to handle than others.
double trouble
‘You go first.’ ‘No, YOU go first.’
lucky bug
This little wasp didn’t know how lucky he was.
suppers ready
Daddy stayed busy, but I never saw Mama.
bugs yum
Once you catch it, you gotta eat it.
daddys home
Checkin’ on the babies.
head in
‘You OK in there?’
whered those babies go
An older sibling, careful to keep an eye on me.

I wanted to see the fledglings, but I had to leave, and when I got back a week later, the family had moved on.

I did manage a tiny glimpse at one of them, though.

hungry baby
Waiting impatiently.

 

 

 

 

Alice’s green thumb

Mom has loved flowers for as long as I can remember.

Every spring when we were young, she would take us to little flower shops up the road from the hill we lived on. We would pass by rows and rows of blooming plants, inhaling the rich scent of flowers and dark brown soil. After we brought her favorites to the house, she would dig some holes in some of her existing flowerbeds and introduce each plant to its new home, where it would thrive.

After we grew up and left, Mom’s love affair with flowers continued. She and Dad put up a chain-link fence, and she planted bushes of hibiscus all down one side. There were more flowers surrounding Dad’s free-standing shop, and her front flowerbed was always full. Last spring and summer, after giving the plot a good weeding, I camped out near the flowerbed and took pictures of hummingbirds, who were drawn to the sugar-water feeders we hung.

female hummer
Mom had a yard full of ruby-throated hummingbirds last summer.

We brought Mom to live with us in North Carolina last August (under protest, she will tell you). But before we left, I took pictures of some of the flowers she had to leave. This way, she can always remember what they looked like.

mom flowerbed overview
There are all kinds of plants hiding in here!
moon flower
These moonflowers were some of Mom’s favorites.
alium
Alium. Or an ornamental onion, as I like to call them.
purple iris
Purple is Mom’s favorite color.
shamrock
Beautiful shamrocks are part of the under story of Mom’s garden.
hibiscus shrub
One of Mom’s many hibiscus blooms.
black eyed sue
A random flower in Mom’s backyard.
hibiscus bud
A wisteria bloom on Mom’s deck.
tiger in wisteria
Mom’s cat Tiger trying to stalk birds on her back deck. I’m sure he misses the old house, too!

 

 

The magical hum of summer

Sometimes, in the heat of a summer day, if you’re sitting still (and sometimes if you’re not), you may glimpse a tiny, winged thing not much bigger than a large moth, zip right by, emitting squeaks and beeps. In the northeast, it’s likely a ruby-throated hummingbird in search of a sugar water feeder or a suitable flower.

Before this year, I hadn’t been much on keeping up with feeding hummingbirds; I know you have to change the water often and make sure it doesn’t run out (hummingbirds are voracious sippers), and I just didn’t make the time.

But as I spent more time with Mom, feeding the regular feeder birds like cardinals, house finches, titmice and a few others, I figured we would both enjoy watching hummers through her big picture window. I found an inexpensive feeder, we boiled some water and let it cool, added the requisite sugar, and very shortly, welcomed our first visitor.

little male hummer
The males I find hardest to photograph; the light has to hit them just right to make their gorget shine.

Hummingbirds, perhaps because of their speed (or their insatiable appetite), are not as shy as other birds. After a few days, you can risk getting closer for pictures.

hummer comin
Sometimes you have to keep snapping to get a good photo: these things are fast!

I am always amazed at how birds (and animals as well) can so easily blend into their backgrounds.

hummer camo
One of my favorite hummingbird shots.

I recently relocated Mom to live with my husband and I in North Carolina. As we sat on the deck one evening, a hummingbird flew by. That was our signal; Mom set out the feeder. After about an hour, there was one. Now there are four, and they all think they own the feeding station.

hummer hover
I caught this little beauty mid-hover!

I forgot to look for a second feeder today when we were out shopping. I will have to remedy that soon; the males seem to have already left for the winter.

hummer tail
Hummingbirds look amazing from every angle.
hummer stretch
I joked when we saw the first hummer in North Carolina that they had followed us from Mom’s house, two states away.

Whether sitting still, or zooming by, hummingbirds can be a wonderful introduction to backyard birding.

hummer hello
Soon they’ll fly south, but I look forward to their return in the spring.

 

Family is what you make of it

The first time Mom laid eyes on Shere Khan, she was answering an ad for a kitten who needed a new home. “He doesn’t like people,” the man said. Mom sat down, and Shere Khan promptly jumped up on her lap to say hello. She brought him home. He was to be a companion cat to Tiger, a lovely ragamuffin kitten my brother-in-law had found in a parking lot in Virginia, and brought him on a family trip to see my parents. Tiger ended up staying, but he was about to claw my Dad to death. The vet said he needed a playmate.

Enter Shere Khan.

upside down
Shere Khan’s motto: The more attention, the better.

The first time I laid eyes on the gray tabby, he was full of the usual kitten antics, but he had a new trick to share, one I found hilarious. He would sit back on his hind legs and rise up, front feet dangling, like a meerkat. He was warmly affectionate, and highly entertaining. I called him my Little Buddy.

Tiger was always more aloof. My sister and mother call him snooty. But I think he’s just a little shy.

lookin lovely
Tiger, bird-watching on the deck.

That was until last fall, when I started traveling to check on Mom, on a more-or-less regular basis. I tried each trip to make friends, and he eventually became less standoffish. He even stood still for some petting, now and then.

tiger playing
Tiger’s pretty fond of sleeping, but he and Shere Khan both like to play.

A few months ago, when Mom got sick, I essentially moved in to help her out. Both kitties got used to me pretty quick, and I’ve discovered most of Tiger’s hiding spots for sleeping. Shere Khan likes to curl up beside me and take a nap. He lets me know, either by staring, winding around my legs or by talking, that it’s time for me to stop what I’m doing and dole out some attention.

Watching them play is fun, but I’ve come to enjoy seeing them groom each other. While one is licking, the other usually has a blissful look on his face.

wash dah face
Shere Khan thinks Tiger does a purr-fect job washing his face.

I caught them at bath-time this afternoon, and they ignored me for a while.

aaah
Mmmmm. You got the right spot.

That is, until I turned on the flash.

tiger licking
Hey! I’m takin’ a bath, here.

Luckily, Shere Khan is quick to forgive. Like Tiger, I’ve been the recipient of several of his loving head-bumps.

headbump
Shere Khan gives Tiger an affectionate head-bump.

 

October: my favorite color

Quite recently, I’ve rediscovered mornings. Sleeping in used to be a cherished luxury. After my children were born, my body clock eventually adjusted to getting up early, and then my career took a detour. I started working evenings, not getting to bed until after midnight. So, again, I slept late, pretty much on a daily basis.

My new job has more regular, daytime hours, which I appreciate. But I still don’t get up and walk every morning as I’d like to. After a recent day-long drive back to West Virginia, my tight muscles were aching to stretch, and I was ready for a walk “around the hill.”

When I started out, it was just getting light. The birds – mostly robins – chirped greetings to each other.  As the darkness lifted, and the sun peeked over the hills, my power walk became a quest to capture the sunrise.

I walked around the circle, catching glimpses of daybreak – and the mist. Stopping every few minutes, standing on tiptoe, I darted looks between houses and through the woods, trying not to alarm the neighbors.

a-touch-of-pink
An October morning surprise.
sunrise-frame-3
How many of these sunrises did I just not see as a child?

The woods on this road were thick, so I hurried on, and remembered the nearby stub of a road that looks about level with the airport, which is on another hill, on the other side of the river. I might capture a good view there. I walked up and down that street a few times, looking for the right spot to snap a picture.

I must’ve hurried up and down that particular road three times looking for just the right scene, knowing my chance to capture the best colors was quickly fading.

misty-mountain
The sun gave the fog here an orange glow.
pink-sunrise-4-3
October isn’t just orange, red, and yellow – there are hints of pink, too.

I headed farther on down the hill, then, toward the playground, where our bus stop used to be. On the way down, I found the sun . . .

contrail-2
You never know what’s waiting behind a West Virginia hill.

And, a little farther down, one of my favorite trees. Not quite all its leaves were gone . . .

fav-tree-2
It was past peak season for fall colors, but I thought this tree was still picture-worthy.

Down and around I went, looking at the old neighborhood, remembering when. Then it was light, and time to head up one of the many, steep hills I used to dread walking up as a child. It’s funny how things change.

the-last-hill
The last big hill.